Monday, June 14, 2010

My Many Soccer Heartbreaks

I took this red car at Ajah en route Ijebu Ode in Ogun state with a half of me wanting to stay back a bit more in lagos, but then the Okada curfew in the Ijebu ode town meant I would be on my own if I arrived anything after 7pm, putting the distance I would have to cover to get to my hotel room into consideration. I was on the post production team of a reality show and had taken time off to visit Lagos for some personal business but Nigeria was hosting Tunisia in Abuja that Sunday evening when I was supposed to return to location and it was a “do or die game” as the Super Eagles continued their quest for qualification to the world cup in South-Africa. I monitored the game while driving hurriedly home, thanks to Brila FM and it was 1-1 at half time when I got home to pack my stuff and left for the park in a rush. Though a disappointing half time score for a green blooded Nigerian like me with strong passion for my football and darling Super Eagles, I kept hope alive for a better 2nd half in which our “boys” would get the goals that would give us that desired victory. I went for this particular car because it looked quite new and healthy from the outside and the least I expected was a FM radio receiver that could connect metro FM for live commentary. Unfortunately it turned out to be one of those disappointments that you can not turn away from. Not only did it not have a stereo, a lot of the buttons on the dash board were missing and the whole of the interior smelt of Cotonou, I could not even identify what brand of car it was. You know obviously one of those vehicles that travel through the wilderness of Saki, Eruwa, Seme, Badagry… en route Nigeria with many things disappearing on the way including sometimes the driver. If I did not have anything occupying my mind I would probably have been scared of traveling in such a handicapped car, especially for a journey embarked on that late; for my mother's sake.

All five men in the car with me including the driver were watching the game before getting on the road and desperately wanted to get the update as the second half was commencing in few minutes. The onus fell on me to make something happen for us all, suffice to say football is our best unifying factor. I loaded my phone with enough airtime to enable me monitor the game while on the road. Rather than an acknowledgement of my generosity, it was more like torture for my new friends each time I had to tell them the score was still a goal apiece, like I was the one responsible for their team not scoring. They kept probing as I stupidly made the calls over and over again but not against my wish, “we never score?” “wetin dey happen?” “Osaze injure?” “who is playing better?” “We dey press them?” Kanu don enter?” “time still dey?” “How many minutes remain?” If I wasn’t in a car, I would have thought it was drizzling with the millions of tiny liquid blowing towards me. The tension rose really bad as time ticked fast and no goal came.

The game was reaching its end and Just while I was asking for how much time we had left, Eneramo! Eneramo! Yeeeeee!!! The voice on the other other side went wild calling for a beer, and I replicated the mood in the car, goal!!! Ope o!!! The driver hooted the horn in excitement and that was when I actually noticed that the horn worked, a passenger sang “Ose ose o ose o, o se baba” while I stayed on the phone to get the description of the goal and how thankful we should be to Mikel Obi the prodigal son of the team for being the architect of the goal. This time I put the phone on speaker, Low and behold the bragging started “today na today!” “dem suppose chop like 3-1” “game just start, goal still dey there”… Now with more calm only interested in knowing who the scorer of the third goal would be, I made my next call after the goal and the voice that gave me the good news just few minutes ago now spoke with lethargy “omo won ti equalize meen, this is terrible, idiot l’awon boys yi…”, within 5 minutes of going ahead, we were back to square 1, the game was 2-2. My screams,What?! How come?! Oh my God!... were all needed for everyone in the car to immediately get the message.

It was at the point when he helped break the air of silence that engulfed the car after we heard our chances of making the world cup shattered by a determined Tunisian’s goal I noticed that the guy on my extreme left had been quiet all the while. He said he had been a victim of so much soccer heartbreaks before just like me, and made up his mind never again to put his hope in any Nigerian team anymore and this was his reason for never celebrating any victory until the final whistle is blown. It was even more painful that we had that much needed victory in our hands but just could not hold on to it. Why? I thought of the efforts I made to make it home to watch the game, the airtime waste, the risk of traveling late in an “abode Cotonou” all for the game and asked myself if it was worth the risks and troubles.

The memories of such heartbreaks from the past came back to make this harder to bear, the USA ’94 loss to Italy after leading all through the game, Nation’s cup final loss to Cameroon in the year 2000, lossing to Sweden after scoring first in Korea-Japan 2002, the away victory over Algeria in 2006 that was rendered useless by Uganda’s dying minute loss to Angola on the last day of the Germany 2006 qualifiers and many more. Ok let’s say those were games in which our teams played well and we took solace in their heroic performances. Shouldn’t I have been smart enough not to put my hope in this one considering the performances lately and the regression of Nigerian football? I remembered the 2008 nation’s cup opening game versus Ivory Coast that I stupidly watched spotting a Nigerian shirt in company of eight Ivorian men in downtown Atlanta and how they made fun of Tywo and I most annoyingly in French after that Solomon Kalou mesmerizing goal, the loss to a 10 man Ghana team in our quarter final elimination, the drab show and consequent draw in Maputo and all the failures when it most matters. Keni why do you keep doing this to yourself?

I have tried for many years not to let my emotions get the best of me anymore when it comes to football, especially since the semi final loss to Ghana in Senegal ’92, the tearful end to USA 94 staring Roberto Baggio, 3SC’s loss in the 1996 CAF champions league, the Eagles’ home loss to Cameroon in CAN 2000 final and Arsenal’s Champion’s league final loss to Barcelona in 2006, these were all occasions on which I wept and rejected food plus so many other heartbreaks that killed my joy but only spared my appetite. I just couldn’t help myself on any of these occasions; maybe I have needed psychotherapy or something more serious since then but just failed to face it. What my fellow traveler offered on the night was somehow simple but seemed to be all I’ve needed. On getting to my hotel room that night, thanks to a nice guy that offered to bear the risk of arrest for me, I made up my mind all over again to never put my heart into the unpredictably mean game of football anymore but to simply support my teams 3SC Ibadan, Arsenal FC London and most especially any Nigerian national team with only prayers and some healthy hype. I never get a share of the match bonuses now! Haba! but something inside me kept saying I would forget my decision again prior to any next crucial game but I kept hope alive, unbelievably I did forget.

Then came the under 20 world cup in Egypt featuring Samson Siasia with the boys and the miracle of their qualification for the round of 16, the hope of dry bones rising again, a “stammerer finally saying the word baba without stuttering”, the ability based on the records of the coach to make something out of nothing, and the reality of other underdogs doing the unthinkable in the same tournament. Hopes were raised and I found myself at the edge of my seat watching the game against Germany on TV, as we led twice and lost the leads immediately! Dejavu! It was four weeks earlier in Abuja with their senior brothers! Oh no! Not again! But there must be a winner tonight and we will win this in extra time; thank God we have a one man advantage and a good coach too. Just like in times before, few seconds to go, our usual wrong judgments, loss of concentration and carelessness, we gave the ball away and they scored! The game was truly over and we had lost everything! I pulled my dinner closer with my left hand as I listened to callers on Brila FM, enjoying their analysis and expression of sadness; some wept on the phone, some abused Haruna Lukman, Big Larry blamed Obiora for not going for “Jam-body tactics A.K.A 10-10”, but I finished my plate of rice without any conscious efforts and grabbed some cake from the nearby table with some cold drink to go with it. I spoke to Iya'beji on phone, switched channels to look for something more exciting on TV, watched a drama on STV and went to sleep.

I woke up the morning after to hear people still yelling over the same game on Brila FM and I did not understand what their problem was! It was at this point that I remembered my vow and knew I have been delivered from the shackles of soccer heartbreaks, at least the ones caused by national teams. What a time to achieve it, it was just four days to their heartbreak big brothers’ damage control game versus Mozambique, and also the Champion’s League season… Damn! Gunners! Another dying minute goal?! Anyways, nothing do me, me I am free at last! I want to live to see my children.

Hapum like dat!

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